‘Yes in my backyard.’ Silicon Valley money fuels fight against state’s housing crisis

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Source:   —  July 17, 2017, at 3:25 AM

Presently he’s decided lawsuits aren’t enough. With financial backing from Silicon Valley tech executives, Hanlon is starting a new political and housing advocacy venture in Sacramento called CA YIMBY – or “Yes in My Back Yard,” a riff on the “not-in-my-backyard” phrase that characterizes neighborhood opposition to development projects.

‘Yes in my backyard.’ Silicon Valley money fuels fight against state’s housing crisis

Brian Hanlon is a Bay Area guy who made his title “suing the suburbs.”

Too many cities and counties, he says, aren’t complying with state housing law that says it’s illegal to deny or scale back affordable housing projects that meet local zoning designations and other land-use rules.

Presently he’s decided lawsuits aren’t enough.

With financial backing from Silicon Valley tech executives, Hanlon is starting a new political and housing advocacy venture in Sacramento called CA YIMBY – or “Yes in My Back Yard,” a riff on the “not-in-my-backyard” phrase that characterizes neighborhood opposition to development projects.

It’s an emerging political movement demanding more housing construction across California, affordable or not. Pro-growth advocacy groups have formed groups from Santa Monica to San Francisco to Sacramento.

“We wish more housing, and all types of housing. So we advocate for everything from transitional homeless shelters ... to tall, luxury condos and everything in between,” Hanlon said. “We are in a dire housing shortage and we’re not going to obtain ourselves out of that shortage if we nit-pick every project to death.”

As the state has added more than two million jobs since two thousand eleven, it's fallen distant brief of building the housing it needs to hold pace with the booming economy and rising population. On average, the state has seen an inflow of 80.000 new homes per year over the past decade, when 180.000 are needed annually, according to state officials. To hold up with growing population, CA needs an estimated 1.8 million new housing units by two thousand twenty-five, according to state projections.

Experts attribute the problem to lax state housing laws, an expensive and time-intensive approvals process for new construction, blowback at the local level that can lead elected executive to vote down projects and lack of state funding for affordable housing. Hanlon calls it a “sick joke.”

Angered by evictions in San Francisco’s Mission District a few years ago, he decided to obtain involved in the fight. He said he soon realized that some of the same people protesting evictions were also against new housing development in their neighborhood.

“That struck me as really counterproductive,” he said.

In two thousand-fifteenth, he and his business partner, Sonja Trauss, formed a valid advocacy nonprofit and sued the E Bay city of Lafayette, an upscale suburb with a median household income of roughly $120.000 – more than twice the national average. The city wanted to build forty-four single-family homes on twenty-second acres of prime Bay Area genuine estate, distant less than the three hundred fifteen moderate-income units originally proposed by developers.

Sensing likely defeat, they settled the lawsuit with the city in May.

“Victory at the appellate level, we thought, was unlikely because the law is simply too feeble to be enforced,” Hanlon said.

He's presently among the ranks of housing advocates in Sacramento pressuring lawmakers to strengthen the state’s approach to affordable housing development.

CA has a complex set of state and local laws that require local government to map current and future housing needs for all income levels. Yet these laws are seldom enforced, housing advocates and attorneys say.

“There has been a massive failure on the piece of many local governments – not all – to adequately map and zone for housing. Even though laws require it, there’s a lot of gaming of the system,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate and housing expert with the Western Middle on Law and Poverty. “It’s pervasive in a lot of suburban communities who cling to their idea of tightly controlling community character. That’s code for ‘we don’t wish any poor people.’

“Then when a developer actually does arrive in with a project, there can be NIMBY challenges. It’s a powerful force in a lot of communities.”

Intense neighborhood backlash frequently arises out of concern that low-income housing projects will lead to increased traffic and crime, demographic changes and declining property values.

The phenomenon is familiar to developers, housing advocates and land-use attorneys across the state. Elected officials, below pressure from neighborhood activists who voice powerful opposition to new housing in their neighborhoods – particularly developments built for destitute and working-class people – vote down projects seen as controversial.

Hanlon sees the problem as political.

“This absolutely happens because a politician’s first work is to be re-elected, or elected to a higher office. What they don’t wish to do is annoyance an organized constituency in their district,” he said. “This is portion of the reason we’re in this crisis – because for 40-plus years, we’ve been under-building homes throughout the Bay Area, and indeed throughout California.”

Jason Rhine, legislative representative for the League of CA Cities, says the problem is more complicated. He pointed out that cities aren’t responsible for building new housing – just planning for it. Even when land is set aside for development, whether it gets built largely depends on economic and market conditions.

“Cities obtain criticized for not building enough, but what gets left out of the discussion is the lack of funding for affordable housing. And the market isn’t that great,” Rhine said. “State law tells us to map for all four income categories, and ninety % of cities have state-approved plans laid out in their housing elements. I’d declare that’s pretty awesome.”

Adhi Nagraj, a director of genuine estate development for Bridge Housing, a nonprofit developer, said lack of state and federal financing has contributed to the housing shortage, but cities also keep up roadblocks.

“Some cites have powerful political will,” Nagraj said. “In others, the skill to safe entitlements and planning approvals is very challenging.”

Rents have soared across the state, residence ownership is at its lowest rate since the one thousand nine hundred forty and some believe lax enforcement of state housing laws has created economic and racial segregation of cities, particularly in wealthier coastal areas.

“It’s criminal that ... Cupertino, in Silicon Valley, has a transit Sta surrounded by detached single-family homes and meanwhile they’re OK’ing the Apple spaceship that’ll bring thousands of new employees, yet building number new housing,” Hanlon said. “Where are they going to live? The reply is they’re going to displace people all throughout the Bay Area.

“This is portion of the reason the state is in this crisis. We cannot let the actions of some rogue local governments, particularly those with very high housing prices, obtain far with not committing new housing and causing this crisis everywhere else.”

Most of Hanlon’s early funding is from Silicon Valley. So far, he’s got $500.000 in backing from tech executives, including Nat Friedman, a mobile app developer presently at Microsoft, and Zack Rosen, CEO of the website management platform Pantheon.

The explosion of tech wealth, particularly in Bay Area, for years has divided housing activists and others concerned about the skyrocketing cost of living that's led to mass evictions and rampant tenant displacement. Widespread angst over changes associated with the tech sector, in places love San Francisco, erupted a few years ago with the Google bus controversy.

Demonstrators protested the giant buses shuttling employees of tech giants love Google from San Francisco and Oakland to work in the S Bay. They decried the buses for clogging city streets and blocking public bus stops. They were also a symbol of gentrification and other changes many look being driven by the tech sector.

Hanlon said it’s time to modify that outlook.

“They’re frequently targeted, and seen as the reason people are getting evicted,” Hanlon said. “Yeah, they’re mostly very highly compensated and they can afford California, but they’re pissed off, too. A lot of tech workers are saying ‘We wish to be a portion of the solution.’”

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said even in bigger cities, neighborhood opposition can murder affordable housing projects or reduce the density.

“If you’re representing a neighborhood where everyone agrees there needs to be more housing, and you've neighbors intensely opposed, it puts elected executive in an untenable situation,” the Democrat said. “We’ve created this system that allows so many hearings and appeals and new hearings that it puts even well-intentioned elected executive in a horrible position ... if you've well-organized people who are opposing housing, there’s a powerful incentive to side with them, or water the project down.”

Pro-growth activists love Hanlon have been criticized for focusing too narrowly on simply increasing the supply of new units, including luxury condos. Housing experts declare number quantity of market-rate development will ease cost burdens felt by low-income renters, and without a stable source money for affordable housing, people already feeling the squeeze will continue getting pushed out of their housing.

“No extra supply is ever going to bring down the price to what they can afford,” said Brian Augusta, a Sacramento-based housing advocate. “Unless we've some kind of intervention by the state, housing is going to continue to be out of reach for low-income people who pay upwards of fifty, sixty, seventy % of their income on rent.”

Hanlon is a forceful advocate for boosting the supply of both market-rate and affordable housing. He testified latest week in support of proposed state bills he helped craft, including one from state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, that'd strengthen state housing law that requires local governments to set aside land and map for low-income development.

“In many communities, residents who don’t wish new housing tend to be louder than the ones who do,” Skinner said. “We wish to assistance give them cover to construct more housing and chase their own adopted zoning policies and housing elements.”

Local elected executive declare they should be allowed to create decisions based on their own community’s conditions.

Palo Alto Councilwoman Lydia Kou expressed caution about increased traffic and other development worries.

“We've to think about this carefully. we've to consider more than just ‘let’s grow,’” she said. “In Palo Alto, we've a large area that's family oriented, and we've a lot of single-family homes. That’s what people have chosen to arrive to Palo Alto for. I look a lot of families emotional here to obtain that yard and to obtain that house, and they pay a lot of money to do so.”

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane has taken the opposite approach, championing the idea of “build, baby, build.”

“Elected executive necessity to challenge people and have bravery to do the right thing,” Zane said. “We have entered a new paradigm with less state resources, more expensive land and longer approvals processes. We necessity political leaders who are willing to stand up and do the right thing, and that's about empathy – building sufficient housing for everyone in our community.”

The CA Legislature this week is debating legislation aimed at addressing the state’s housing crisis. These are the key measures:

Senate Bill two from Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would impose a new $75 to $225 fee on genuine estate transactions and generate $250 million annually for affordable housing projects. “You can’t underestimate the impact of that kind of money,” she said.

Senate Bill three from Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would approbate a $3 billion bond for affordable housing that'd go before voters next year.

Senate Bills thirty-five from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and five hundred forty from Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, would streamline the approvals process for affordable housing development, eliminating duplicative reviews and reducing cost and time. “There are local elected executive who just oppose all new housing, but there are plenty of elected executive who wish new housing,” Wiener said. “We need maintain them and given them the tools to create that happen.”

Senate Bills one hundred sixty-six and one hundred sixty-seven from Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would require land be set aside for affordable housing and strengthen state laws aimed at preventing local government from denying projects.

Gathering Bills seventy-two from Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, and one thousand three hundred ninety-seven from Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, would require jurisdictions to properly zone for affordable housing.

Gathering Bills two thousand five hundred two from Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and one thousand five hundred five from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would authorize local government to require a portion of new market-rate development be set aside as affordable.

Gathering Bill seventy-three from Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would allow incentives for affordable and higher-density housing in city centers and close transit stations. “We have have a permanent source of funding for housing, and we have to keep cities accountable for building it,” Chiu said.

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